Consumer-grade pianos are built to be sold at a particular price, and adjustments to (i.e., compromises in) materials, workmanship, and method and location of manufacture are made to meet that price. Most are mass-produced in Asia, with less in the way of custom refinement of individual instruments.
Consumer-grade pianos are subcategorized here mostly, but not entirely, by price. As mentioned earlier, in the current piano market, price is not a perfect indicator of technical or musical quality. However, price becomes a better indicator of quality when quality is understood to include all factors that consumers value — not only an instrument’s performance, but also the brand’s reputation and its track record for durability, reliability, warranty service, and resale value. This is especially relevant for consumer-grade pianos, where purchasers often are more interested in these other factors than in the instrument’s performance. It also means, however, that some brands may be rated a little higher or lower than they would be if rated on musical performance alone. In a few cases we’ve made small adjustments when we felt that considerations of price alone seriously under- or overvalued a brand.
As can be expected, upper-level consumer-grade pianos generally have premium components and better performance than lower-level instruments. The entry-level models are basic, no-frills pianos suitable for beginners and casual users, but which a conscientious student may outgrow in a few years. As piano quality in general improves, the distinctions between levels become more subtle and difficult to discern.
As discussed earlier, globalization and the computerization of manufacturing have, to some extent, blurred the distinctions between performance- and consumer-grade pianos. Increasingly, makers of performance-grade instruments have been creating lower-cost brands by manufacturing instruments and components in countries with cheaper labor, while makers of consumer-grade pianos have been bringing to market higher-quality models by perfecting automation and sourcing parts worldwide. This has created difficulties in classifying brands by means of a two-grade system, both because some brands defy such classification, and because of the bottleneck that results from the attempt to rate too many brands relative to one another in a restricted space. To alleviate this problem, we’ve spun off a third type of piano, called Intermediate Grade.
Intermediate-grade pianos are of two types. One, here called Deluxe Consumer, consists of former consumer-grade brands that in recent years have become so advanced in their designs, materials, and manufacturing technologies that they now rival some performance-grade pianos in musicality, and are sometimes recommended as substitutes for them, often at considerably lower prices. The second type, here called European Affiliated, consists of lesser product lines of companies, mostly European, that are principally known for their performance-grade models. Increasingly, instruments from this latter group are being partly made in China or Indonesia, then shipped to Europe for completion. Exactly how much of their manufacture is actually done in Europe — which, after all, is offered as a justification for their higher price — is sometimes a well-kept secret and the subject of much speculation. As the quality of pianos throughout the market rises and becomes more homogeneous, debate about these dual-origin models tends to seesaw between “What a rip-off for what’s basically a Chinese (or Indonesian) piano” and “What a great deal for an instrument that’s virtually the same as a high-end European one.” We’ll let you be the judge of which of these extremes is closer to the truth.
Due to the highly subjective nature of piano ratings, in “A Map of the Market for New Pianos” (page 42), we purposely avoided making too many judgments about the quality of the various brands. Instead, we provided, as a frame of reference, a summary of the way pianos are presented in the marketplace by manufacturers and dealers. However, we feel we owe some specific recommendations to the many readers who have requested them, in part to simplify the buying process for shoppers who lack the time, ability, or interest to make their own discoveries. To emphasize the subjective nature of these recommendations, we provide them in this list rather than through the Map. This way, too, we don’t have to pass judgment on each and every brand and model.
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